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HOSTAGE

French hostage ‘hid under bed for 40 hours’

A French national said on Friday he hid under his bed for 40 hours during the hostage-taking in Algeria before being rescued by soldiers during an assault that involved heavy exchanges of gunfire.

Alexandre Berceaux, an employee of CIS Catering at the desert gas complex, also told Europe 1 radio that the initial attack on the site was a surprise as the base was heavily guarded.

"There were intervals of heavy gunfire" on Thursday when Algerian forces stormed the base, he said. "There are terrorists who are dead, expatriates, locals," Berceaux said,
adding that he had been taken to another nearby site and was unaware if the operation was continuing on Friday morning.

He said the hostage-taking on Wednesday had come as a complete shock. "I heard an enormous amount of gunfire. The alarm telling us to stay where we were was going off. I didn't know if it was a drill or if it was real," he said.

"Nobody expected this. The site was protected. There were soldiers in place," he said. "I stayed hidden for nearly 40 hours in my room. I was under the bed and I put boards everywhere just in case. I had a bit of food, a bit to drink, I didn't know how long it would last."

"I think there are still people hidden."

He said he was found during Thursday's assault by men he believed to be Algerian military. "They were soldiers dressed in green. I think they were Algerian soldiers," he said. "I recognized some of my colleagues with them, otherwise I would never have emerged.

"I've heard there was a wounded person in the restaurant storeroom yesterday morning. Three Englishmen who had hidden above the dropped ceiling were found along with this wounded person, who was taken directly to hospital," the Frenchman said.

"I think there are still people hidden. They are in the process of doing a count now."

Algeria came under mounting international criticism on Friday as fears grew for dozens of foreign hostages still unaccounted for after the deadly commando raid against Islamist militants who had seized the remote In Amenas gas field in the Sahara desert.

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HOSTAGE

Two guards freed at French prison as hostage standoff ends

An inmate armed with a homemade weapon took two guards hostage at a high-security prison in northwest France on Tuesday before both were freed unharmed five hours later, authorities said.

Two guards freed at French prison as hostage standoff ends
Police tactical units arrived by helicopter as the hostage situation unfolded. Photo: AFP
Police tactical units arrived by helicopter as the hostage situation unfolded at the Conde-sur-Sarthe Penitentiary Centre, which holds dangerous or radicalised prisoners and those with serious discipline problems.
   
The prisoner, armed with the improvised weapon, had taken the guard and the female trainee hostage during meal time, officials said.
   
The guard was released first and then the female trainee was also freed, both “safe and sound”, before the prisoner surrendered, the national Prison Administration Directorate said.
 
Photo: AFP
   
No further details were immediately available about how the guards were freed or whether it involved a negotiation.
   
A justice ministry source said the inmate has a history of psychiatric problems and hostage taking. He has convictions for robbery, rape and for the murder of a prison cellmate.
   
Elite police units had arrived at the prison by three helicopters, an AFP photographer at the scene said.
   
Security measures were increased in Conde-sur-Sarthe after a prisoner stabbed two guards with a homemade knife in March. After failed negotiations to end a standoff, security units launched an assault, wounding the prisoner.
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